Sunday, August 18, 2013

flee from compromise!

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

We tend to think of Jesus as a peace-loving sort: blessed are the peace-makers; love your enemies; turn the other cheek. We can over-look that this same Jesus made a whip out of cord and over-turned the tables of the money-changers; that he spoke a great deal about those who were not friends of God being cast into the outer darkness where there would be wailing and a gnashing of teeth; and, as we hear in today's Gospel, that he said he had come not to bring peace but fire and division.

That might sound contradictory, but I happen to think it is quite typical of most people: they prefer a quiet life, but they'll stand and fight when they have to. For example, most of the soldiers I served with in the US Army were what I would call peace-loving men and women. They had no particular desire to be sent into a war-zone, though of course they would go and do their duty if sent. And if they were sent to a place where a conflict was taking place, they were perfectly happy if they did not see combat.

I remember one, Sgt Burns, telling me about how he was out on patrol one night in Iraq, his M-16 in his hands locked and loaded: 'I spent the whole time praying,' he said to me. 'Lord, don't let me come across someone. 'Cause I surely don't want to get shot. And I just as much don't want to have to shoot someone.' There was another Gulf-veteran in the platoon, a Sgt. Gomez. He would have had pretty much the same attitude of Sgt. Burns. Which is why I was surprised when he told me about the loaded 9mm pistol he kept in his house. He lived in a pretty rough part of town and every morning he picked up his hand-gun and took a careful look outside before he exited his home to report for duty.

'You look surprised, Burke,' he said.

'Well, yes, Sgt. You always struck me as a kind of non-confrontational kind of guy.'

'It's pretty simple. I'm not looking for trouble, but it's where I live. What else am I going to do? A man can only retreat so far. And when you get past your own front door, you can't retreat no more.'

As I said, a preference for peace, for a quiet life; but ready to stand and fight if the occasion arose.

And the thought occurs to me, having reflected on today's Gospel, have we gone too far in the one direction and forgotten all about the other? Do we focus too much about the peaceful part of Christ's message, and think not at all about the division that he told us that his message would result in?

In our reading, Jesus uses the example of what his message could to to a family. He means here, I suggest, that this is what would happen if one part of a family believed in his good news and the other part did not – that the result would be that the family would be torn apart. Did he say, 'now if that happens folks, of course what you must do is find some kind of way of compromising … in such circumstances people, naturally I would expect my peace-loving followers to back down, to water the message down a bit, maybe keep what they believe to themselves – anything for a quiet life, after all!' No, he doesn't. In fact he says: I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled – not exactly indicative of a willingness to compromise! And families, we must remember, are the basic building blocks of society … if he expects that strict adherence to his word will cause difficulty in a Christian's family life, what problems might it cause in one's social life?

The truth is that Christ knew, and warned his followers, that keeping to the Way that he taught would cause divisions between between them and wider society – and the choice was his way or the world's way – his way and division or the world's way and a quiet life … but you couldn't be a Christian in your heart, where no one knew about it, and the same as everybody else as far as the world was concerned.

Not easy. But then, when someone says that haven't come to bring peace but fire and division then we know they are not inviting us into an easy life. But the fact that it is hard is softened somewhat by the fact that Jesus helps us to lead that hard life. He offers us his grace every day to endure. And he holds out the promise of eternal life to those who endure to the end. Which makes, I think, sacrificing the possibility of a quiet life an easy sacrifice to make … which is why that I pray that all here will chose the life of division he calls us to: in the name of the Father, & the Son, & the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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